Residents want to save century-old hall. Council wants to demolish it

ABOVE: Interior of the Leeville Hall.

Susanna Freymark

Samantha Boucher is the president of the new committee for the Leeville Hall aiming to save and restore the historic building that was damaged in the February-March floods.

The hall was built in 1914 and the recent flood shifted the hall off its footings.

“The hall looks pretty bad at the moment,” Ms Boucher said.

A decision was endorsed at the Richmond Valley Council meeting on Tuesday, December 20 to demolish the hall.

The council had a few options for the hall. They were:

Spend more than $200,000 to rebuild the hall at its existing level;

Repair and rebuild the hall and raise it by 1m – costing more than $500,000; or

Demolish the hall at a cost of $50,000.

Ms Boucher has lived in Leeville all her life and has bought the family farm next to the hall.

She said the Mongogarie Rd hall wasn’t being used a lot before the flood and a new committee was needed to bring the hall to life.

The threat of losing the community hall spurred residents into action.

Ms Boucher gave a presentation to councillors about how the new committee planned to make the hall viable by using it for a playgroup, movie nights, craft and weaving workshops, yoga and hiring of the hall.

The presentation included using the hall as a recovery centre and community hub.

“What is a community without a public gathering space?” the committee’s report said.

“The current condition of the Leeville Public Hall could be viewed as a reflection of the Leeville community at this moment in time.”

Floodwaters displaced the footings of the hall.

The committee’s report included letters of support from potential users of the hall including Leeville Public School, Simply Yoga, Border Ranges Richmond Valley Landcare Network.

The council’s report on Leeville Hall listed the council’s operating budget for 25 halls across the Richmond Valley as $206,770 a year.

That breaks down to an average of $8270 per hall.

The problem with a rebuild of Leeville Hall was the inability to get insurance coverage, the need for toilets and for effluent management.

The final sentence in the report was a death knell for the hall.

“It is recommended that the Leeville Hall should not be rebuilt and that further discussion should be undertaken with the community regarding suitable future uses of the site.”

At the council meeting Mayor Robert Mustow said the hall’s usage had “fallen away”.

“This is a pretty hard decision to take away an asset from our community,” he said.

Mr Mustow said he had been out to the hall three times since the floods.

“It’s very, very badly damaged,” he said.

“I don’t make this decision lightly.

“It’s beyond repairing. It’s disappointing.”

Ms Boucher said there had been the suggestion of picnic tables at the hall site.

What she and the other committee members want though, is a repaired hall that can grow in its use and once again, become the centre of the Leeville community.

The Leeville Hall. This photo taken before the floods. All photos: Contributed
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